Monday, 5 September 2011

eBookTreasures I

This will be the first of a couple of posts on a new venture we've just launched called eBookTreasures.

Basically it's like Turning the Pages for iPad, but you get to download and own the book. If you're having a hard time visualising this, take a look at a video.

I want the posts to cover the background, the technical approach and the commercial model. I think it's worth doing this as so many things fall out of this project: open vs closed standards, Apple vs Kindle, free vs paid, social media vs traditional marketing.

This post is on the background.

Around summer 2010, the iPad had just launched, and whilst we had been looking at what TTP on mobile devices might be for quite a while, this launch acted as a catalyst to take another look.

Our options were:
- build an iOS app
- build an Android app
- create an iBook
- create a mobi file for Kindle

Building an iOS app condemned us not only to a lifetime of support, but also the need for an Android app at some point. And then maybe a WinPhone 7 app. No chance - we were never going to get Angry Birds style volume so the development costs couldn't be justified. Plus the Android app store was a black hole made of nasty.

We actually made a few mobi files to see what they looked like on a Kindle and the answer was predictably ugly. They looked OK on Kindle apps though, and we really wanted to use Amazon as a channel, but the deal-breaker was Kindle's charging model - 10p per Mb on top of the 30%. One of our books came out at over 200 Mb, so we'd have to give Amazon £20 per download, with resultant ridiculous pricing. Another one crossed off the list for now.

So we looked at iBooks. The iPad was great, but in summer/autumn 2010 iBooks was like Kindle - no support for graphical books.

So we waited, and then came a rush of updates to iBooks. Essentially they added a slew of features from the forthcoming epub 3 standard before it was ratified. Woo-hoo! Fixed-width pages, support for Javascript, CSS, HTML5. Now we could build the books we wanted. True digital facsimiles of the greatest books in the world with interpretation and enhanced features like narration.

This felt good to us. The iBook platform uses the open epub standard, so the books should have a life outside of Apple when epub3 is supported by other vendors, we can offer a great user experience, and a slick delivery mechanism.

The strategic technical decision was to let someone else build the app. So Apple do the heavy lifting in building, testing and updating iBooks, and we develop a model to cost-effectively populate the app with our content.

This allows us to focus on our customers, not the technology.

The approach is also the one we plan to use for all other platforms - to use the Kindle platform and apps to reach into Android/Windows/WinPhone 7 and Kindle devices, rather than build our own platform.

The only thing we knew we were missing was the volume that the Amazon channel could offer, but we figured we could make up for that given the impressive nature of out launch partners (the British Library, Natural History Museum etc).

We soft-launched in August and have spent the last few weeks ironing out some wrinkles in the metadata, so now would be a great time to tell us what you think.